While it is true that the U.S. has one of the highest life expectancies of any country in the world, it’s also true that our quality of life as we age is one of the worst. That’s because even though the average age of death for a U.S. male is 84 and a woman is 87, they will most likely live to that age in poor health and needing long-term care at a nursing or assisted living facility. We live longer here but that’s only due to advanced medical care, not due to the way we eat or take care of ourselves. In general, the U.S. is at the top of the list for the most obese and unhealthy populations in the world.
Even with that knowledge, we somehow think we will somehow be able to afford the cost of aging so badly. We don’t think twice about insuring our homes and cars, but we never think of insuring ourselves as we age in case we need long-term care. How does the risk of long-term care compare with other majors risks we always insure against?
Home Fire: 1 out of 1,200 homes
Auto Accident: 1 out of 240 automobiles
Major Medical: 1 out of 15 people
Long-term Care: 1 out of every 4 people!!!
And the cost of getting that long-term care is staggering. The average cost of an assisted living facility is $3,000 per month (and that’s a no-frills facility). The average cost per month for stay in a skilled nursing home is $6,000. You can see how quickly life savings can be drained if one or both spouses needs to go into long-term care. And as you can see from the above statistics, your chances of needing that care are good, unfortunately.
One of the things people do to combat the loss of life savings as they age is to purchase a long-term care insurance policy. As Peter pointed out in his last post, premiums for this type of insurance are expensive, usually around $6,000 per year. But, the cost of long-term care is SO MUCH MORE costly, that you can recoup your premiums in less than two years.
Okay, so purchasing long-term care insurance is one way to deal with the high cost of aging, but what about doing more to prevent these ridiculously high expenses yourself in the first place? The reason more people don’t do this is manyfold:
- When people are younger they can’t possibly imagine their bodies getting tired and wearing out, so they don’t plan for the future. It isn’t until people hit about age 50 that they realize they aren’t driving a new car anymore. While the “car” isn’t ready to go to the junkyard just yet, it’s still a used car and needs a lot more attention and maintenance than it once did.
- The cultural norm in our U.S. society is inactivity and obesity, so eating healthy and staying active take more work, more money, and more effort than they do in other countries where it’s more expected.
- We don’t have the cleanest food supply, with genetic food engineering, contaminated and depleted soil, pesticides, and chemical food processing. Let’s face it, it’s much harder to eat healthy in the U.S. than it is in countries where people are still eating raw food directly off the land. While trends are going to more organic, clean food, eating well in the U.S. is still more expensive than eating the standard American crap diet.
Okay, but enough with the excuses. Now on to what can be done to plan better for the future so we can not only be alive in our retirement years, but enjoying that life and having the money to do so. This requires work right now, when you are in your 30s, 40s, and 50s. Once you hit your 60s, the chance of aging well if you have not been eating right or staying active go down exponentially!
So what do experts mean when they say to eat right and be active?
First, the “eating right” definition:
- This means 5-7 servings of vegetables (fruit is not included in this) per day, 4 of those servings should be dark green vegetables.
- Eating balanced meals that include protein, good fats (think Omega 3s not Omega 6s) and complex carbs (meaning whole grains and fruits, not simple carbs such as processed foods and sugar).
- Eating smaller meals more frequently to avoid over-eating, or keeping portions small if eating only three times a day so you eat only until you are satisfied, not stuffed or even slightly full.
- Drinking half your body weight in ounces of water. So let’s say you weigh 130 pounds, you should drink 65 ounces of water daily.
- Trying not to eat after the evening meal so you can let your body “fast” for a good 13-16 hours. Studies have found that people who live in countries where they often have to go to bed hungry or on a more empty stomach have better long-term health and tend to live longer. Fasting can be an important key to weight loss and weight maintenance.
Now on to the definition of “being active:”
There are arguments all over the place about what it means to be truly active and how much and what kind of activity you need to age well. So I won’t go into a lot of detail here, except to say that activity that is required to maintain health as you age is not a moderate little walk around the block. That level of activity, let’s be honest, is for those who have not stayed cardiovascularly active throughout their life and are trying to get some form of exercise in now that it is becoming really hard to do it. If you wait until your 60s to start being active, it’s going to be a lot harder to get in shape and stay that way, so don’t wait. Do it now, while you have a chance… a chance to do more than take a little walk around the block. While it is possible for people in their 50s and 60s who have never been active in their life to totally transform their life and get into total shape, the amount of time and effort to do it can be staggering! That’s why it’s important to do the work now, when the body can comply more easily.
What helps cells rebuild the mitochondria that naturally die as we age is longer periods of moderate activity, meaning a three mile walk, if you’re just starting out, a five-mile bike ride, a 40-minute aerobics class of some kind. Modify it to work for your level of fitness and work up to longer and harder activities such as running a 5k, biking 20 to 50 miles, hiking that more difficult peak, or swimming those 5 miles. It doesn’t matter, but just get moving so you can build up mitochondria and cardiovascular endurance. Be sure to consult a doctor if you have not ever been active or active for a long time to make sure your heart and lungs can handle more than a little walk around the block.
The second way we need to rethink aging well in terms of physical activity is getting body mechanics in order before you lose muscle, skeletal function, and balance that is almost impossible to correct as you get older. How we move and use muscles in our 30s, 40s, and 50s will determine whether we can even stand up in our 60s, 70s, and 80s. Learn more about the absolute importance of bio-mechanics and how to stabilize and strengthen abdominal and spinal muscles, and how to use the core for balance, strength, and energy. Take a yoga class (they say if you are not doing yoga after age 40 you are just crumpling in on yourself — yoga builds strength, balance, and flexibility), hire a bio-mechanics motion specialist, learn how to retrain parts of your brain that have been using certain muscle groups in your body incorrectly to alleviate pain, injury, and immobility. The more you move and move properly when you are younger, the better chance you have of staying active your ENTIRE life.
For more information about how to age well and plan well for retirement visit www.moneymastery.com.